Digital Leadership
Summit at ISTELive 20
Creative Constructor
Lab Virtual
Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

Free Reading Tools for Primary Sources, Songs and Just-in-Time Definitions

Location: Posters; Level 3, Skyline Ballroom Pre-function, Table 35

Participate and share

Participate and share : Poster

Tuesday, June 26, 10:30 am–12:30 pm
Location: Posters; Level 3, Skyline Ballroom Pre-function, Table 35

Molly Farrow  
Explore three online approaches to active reading showcased across hundreds of free resources, including an online repository (with over 250 text and audio primary sources), a series of 40+ topical case studies with reading tools facilitating text analysis and just-in-time definitions seeded throughout to help struggling readers.

Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: The following url is necessary:
This is a free resource - account creation and sign-in required.

The free Explore! Primary Sources activities from this site work on all platforms and browsers.
The free online document analyzer series is built in Flex -works on mobile if you use the Puffin Browser. Mobile is not recommended due to screen size.

Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Online tools, apps and resources
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Special education, Social studies
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
For Students:
Empowered Learner
  • Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session
Related exhibitors: Curriculum Pathways

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

The online active reading resources featured in this poster sessions give participants the opportunity to experience how well-designed technology empowers students to interact with text as they read. According the National Center for History in Schools: When we ask students to work with and learn from primary sources, we transform them into historians. Rather than passively receiving information from a teacher or textbook, students engage in the activities of historians — making sense of the stories, events and ideas of the past through document analysis.

• Participants explore a document analyzer tool that prompts students to define unknown vocabulary, make comments on key passages within a text, and begin constructing arguments for a debate of issues that are based on textual evidence. Too often both students and teachers consider active, close reading an arduous task that technology cannot assist. Participants will get hands-on opportunities to use the doc analyzer tool to actively read selections of carefully-chosen primary-source document passages from varying points of view. Topics include investigating the role of ancient Egyptian scribes, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Booker T. Washington’s views on equality, freedom of speech in schools, the minimum wage, and more. See examples of resources that use this tool here: (Set up a free account login for access, then click arrow to Launch resource).

• Participants explore a collection of over 250 text and audio resources that engage students in active reading. K-5 students can start with something familiar like a song or a poem. Reading is only one important approach to primary sources. You can also listen to a song and analyze the lyrics. Songs are great for helping students tackle the text reading in a rigorous, yet very fun activity. See example of resources here: (Set up a free account login for access, then click arrow to Launch resource).

• Participants experience the ease of tools for just-in-time definitions providing immediate clarity for students reading background content and primary-source material. Informational texts play an important part in building students’ content knowledge. Further, it is vital for students to have extensive opportunities to build knowledge through texts so they can learn independently.

Giving students access to free online tools that activate and streamline the challenges of reading for meaning brings learning and engagement to a higher level.


I will introduce and demonstrate the document-analysis series that provides an online document reading tool. Participants will observe the instructional design for approaching the the case-study questions and using the online-document-analyzer tool to engage students in active and focused reading of primary- source text passages. Passages are chosen to represent varying points of view to add further detail to understanding of the case study question. Sample topics for document analysis activities include, Japanese Internment, the Indian Removal Act, Johnson’s Vietnam War, Ibn Battuta’s journey to Mali, and more. I will display posters of sample document-analysis sheets charting student comments. Examples of the free document-analysis series are here:
•  U.S. History series explores Anne Hutchinson, the Progressive Era, LBJ and the Vietnam War, and more.

•  World History series has an exhaustive list, from Enlightenment philosophers to Imperialism.

• Civics & Economics series covers topics from the Constitutional Convention to Supreme Court cases.

I will also introduce Explore: Primary Sources which offers a collection of over 250 text and audio resources that engage students in active reading. Suggestions for using this free resource for active reading include:
• K-5 students can consider the historical context and answer online comprehension questions as they explore the patriotic images Emma Lazarus created in her poem "The New Colossus."
• Songs are great for introducing students to the skills needed for text analysis. Students can learn about "a mule named Sal" while exploring the geography and trade routes of the Erie Canal! The songs and poems in Explore! Primary Sources also meet the needs of intellectually disabled students in special needs programs.
For many students, added clarity comes from listening to primary-source audio, reading out loud, or enacting a dramatic reading of a primary-source transcript.
• High-school students can assess the impact of the rapid-fire dialogue between two distinct dialects: a southern governor and a New England-born president. Temperatures rise as they discuss integration at Ole Miss in this 1962 Oval Office telephone conversation.
• Set up monthly Paideia seminars. As you are planning each unit, select a primary-source document central to the events and themes of that period. One of my favorites is the 1852 Frederick Douglass speech What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

Supporting research

Research supporting active reading to improve critical thinking includes:

New SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Overview (full pdf overview)

Highlighting for Understanding of Complex Text National Teaching and Learning Forum.
Computational Identification of Ideology in Text: A Study of Canadian Parliamentary Debates
Inference: Reading Ideas as Well as Words
Educating Teachers for Higher Order Thinking: The Three-Story Intellect

More [+]


Molly Farrow, SAS

Part-time adventurer/full-time educator, Molly Farrow is a Wake Forest University graduate with a Masters from the University of North Carolina. She taught in public schools for 11 years (and Taipei American School) before developing online resources for Curriculum Pathways®. Working with an education philanthropy team, she creates FREE online resources. Offerings include a text (and audio) primary-source repository, an annotation atlas tool, case studies using online document analysis tools, and interactive narratives promoting active reading on pivotal issues like voting rights for women. Her focus is using technology wisely for maximum student engagement and critical thinking.

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